UK: Next Steps To Improve The Planning System And Support Sustainable Development

Last Updated: 16 August 2012
Article by DWF LLP

Further moves to simplify the planning system and make it more accessible to people in communities were set out today by Planning Minister Greg Clark. 

The package of measures includes proposals to make it easier to re-use some existing buildings without needing planning permission including the so-called 'meanwhile' use of vacant commercial buildings; streamlining the amount of paperwork needed for a planning application; speeding up planning appeal decisions; reducing the volume of planning guidance; and ensuring planning departments are properly resourced to assess applications promptly and efficiently, reducing the burden on council taxpayers. 

The Government has already taken steps to improve the planning system through the National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Act, which are already delivering results. 

For example, the rate at which councils are putting in place a local plan is increasing in comparison to the average over the previous seven years and over 100 local authorities are now working with front-runner communities on neighbourhood planning. 

Today's proposals will help to maintain the rapid pace of reform by removing unnecessary barriers, streamlining paperwork, and supporting swifter decision making. 

Greg Clark said: 

"Our reforms to the planning system are making it simpler, clearer and more accessible to people in communities. 

"Following the simplification of the national planning policy in the National Planning Policy Framework, these proposed changes streamline the process of applying for planning permission. 

"Our aim is to have a system that applicants and members of communities can be confident will give a reliable, swift and fair outcome." 

The measures include:

  • Making it easier to re-use existing agricultural, retail and commercial buildings, such as offices and warehouses, without the need to submit a planning application, supporting small business growth. A consultation is being published on changes to the Use Classes Order, which determines the flexibility with which such buildings can be re-used. The consultation also proposes allowing so called 'meanwhile' or temporary uses of certain buildings to open up premises to new businesses and to bring redundant buildings back into use, in line with recommendations in the Portas Review.
  • Cutting out unnecessary information in the application process to make the system clearer, and easier to use, without undermining the ability for councils to make well-informed decisions. A consultation setting out proposals is being published today.
  • Following the approach of the National Planning Policy Framework in distilling 1,000 pages of policy into around 50, the next challenge is to review around 6,000 pages of supporting planning guidance. Details of the approach to be taken will be announced shortly.
  • Speeding up the process for determining planning appeals - proposals on shortening and streamlining the process will be published for consultation later this year.
  • Uprating local councils' planning fees in line with inflation thereby reducing the burden on ordinary council taxpayers, who otherwise end up subsidising developers. Planning fees are set by Government and have not been increased since 2008.
  • Ensuring councils whose planning decisions are consistent with an up to date local plan are not ordinarily liable for costs if their decision is appealed.
  • Making technical changes to the operation of the Community Infrastructure Levy including ensuring that developers are not charged the levy twice, on the same development, if they amend existing planning consent.
  • Extending the funding to April 2013 to the four organisations providing advice and support to communities leading the way on neighbourhood planning. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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